Why I’m supporting Grace Van Cleave for Iowa Senate district 17

Jamie Burch Elliott is a former director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood in Iowa.

I support pro-choice fighter Grace Van Cleave in the June 7 Democratic primary to represent Iowa Senate district 17 because we need her. Beyond that, she’s my friend. So, I’d like to tell you a little bit about her, and to ask you to vote for her in Tuesday’s primary. 

I met Grace more than a decade ago, when I went to work for former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack. In fact, Grace interviewed me for my job. Little did I know then that this interview would lead me to a career of working to protect and defend women’s rights—and that I’d gain a lifelong friend along the way.

That’s my story. And I can tell you, Grace is a champion of not just progressive politics but also of helping progressive women achieve the leadership positions that are so necessary for Iowa’s future. She and I have lived this, whether working to help elect Democrats, in the nonprofit sector, or in the private sector. We know that when Democratic women lead, Iowans win. 

As you may know, Grace and I share a deeply held belief in reproductive freedom. I made that my career; Grace made it her passion. And when it comes to the right to choose, we have a real fight ahead of us. The leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion overturning Roe v. Wade is as serious as it gets. Here in Iowa, our Supreme Court may soon roll back our own state protections of reproductive rights. Add to that a proposed state constitutional amendment, and we can all see that the Republicans have cleared the way for an end to abortion in Iowa.

But ultimately, we the people get the last word. So, what this all means is our massive fight to preserve the basic right to abortion moves to the state legislatures. We shouldn’t be voting on fundamental rights at all, ever. But this is what happens when out of touch, extremist, right wing politicians are in charge at every level and in every branch of government.

They can see a victory for their skewed and anti-woman agenda in their sights. They want to end the era of Iowans having the right to safe, judgment-free health care. So, the battle is about the survival of our individual rights in Iowa. And that means we must care deeply about who’s representing us.

Grace launched her career by deciding to work full-time to elect pro-choice women and end the Iraq War before going on to serve Democrats in five states. She left college and drove directly to Washington, D.C. to start an entry-level job at the Democratic National Committee.

Her job of helping Democrats win brought her to Iowa—and once she got here, she knew she was at home. She lived on the east side for eight years, and is now a proud homeowner in the Drake Neighborhood. She absolutely loves living in Iowa, and is grateful every day for what this state has given to her. 

Now, she’s asking for the chance to be in the fight. She launched her campaign in November, the first candidate for a new open seat, with a simple, serious message: “Give Choice a Voice.” She did this even as a chorus of voices in our circles gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) asked her to quiet her own voice on abortion rights. But she knew Iowans deserve better. She zeroed in on the need for our elected leaders to protect reproductive rights in Iowa, and shared her vision for Iowa Democrats with anyone who would listen. 

Grace’s vision goes like this: Fight like heck on choice; recruit the overwhelming majority of Iowa voters who stand with us on abortion rights to vote for Democratic candidates; flip seats to create legislative majorities; and build up our vote count to win the governor's race and other statewide elections. 

What I love about Grace’s energy and tenacity is that she represents a whole new wave of activists motivated by this issue and who will be the ones who fix Iowa. She knows it’s possible if we work hard and stick together. And, at 39, she has a lot of election cycles ahead of her to do it.

Personally, as I work with Democrats to put together the resources we need to win, I want Grace Van Cleave fueling that effort every day. Someone with her experience could have signed up as a fancy consultant and made a good living raising money for candidates and causes. But she knows Iowa Democrats don’t need another consultant—we need our elected officials to get to work.

This is our moment. Like generations before us, more than 50 years ago, we are being called to fight for our bodies and our lives. It will take sustained organizing, mobilizing, messaging and money on a scale we’ve never seen before. 

I’m ready. And so is my friend Grace Van Cleave.  

Top photo of Jamie Burch Elliott published with permission.

Iowa Senate district 17 covers part of the city of Des Moines.

Editor’s note: Bleeding Heartland welcomes guest posts advocating for Democratic candidates in competitive primaries for local, state, or federal offices. Please read these guidelines and contact Laura Belin if you are interested in writing.

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